tv Charlie Rose PBS May 19, 2010 11:00pm-12:00am EDT
>> rose: welcome to the broadcast. tonight, scott turow, the best-selling author, talks about his new legal thriller "innocent." it's the sequel to his first blockbuster "presumed innocent." >> after saying for many years that i would never write a sequel, suddenly had an idea that i found really compelling and a post--it note on my desk which had just been sitting there saying "a man is sitting on a bed in which the dead body of a woman lies." >> rose: and how long had it been sitting there? >> at least two months. i think it was inspired by a hopper painting of a woman sitting on a bed and somehow in... dreams things get mixed up and i ended up with that image and it just sat there and i was just... just the ink link about writing about rusty sabich again. >> don: we continue with jewels phiffer. he has written his memoir, it's called "backing into forward."
>> fortunately for me, i lived the life of as young man never in shape. >> rose: right. >> fortunately? >> i never played ball, i have no athletic ability. so the notion... i can't do what i used to be able to do. i never used to be able to do it. >> rose: scott turow and jules feiffer next. captioning sponsored by rose communications from our studios in new york city, this is charlie rose. >> rose: scott turow is here.
in 1987, he published his debut novel called "presumed innocent." the book has since sold more than 25 million copies worldwide. it helped to ignite the popularity of the legal thriller genre. now some 23 years later he has written a sequel called "innocent." i'm pleased to have him here at this table once again to talk about what he does so well: writing legal thrillers. so welcome. >> thank you, charlie. great to be back with you. >> rose: so one what causes someone to write a tse sghel. >> you know, i... of course that's a question i've asked myself for a while. and there are a variety of answers. the simplest one is that i suddenly after... after saying for many years that i would never write a sequel suddenly had an idea that i found really compelling. i had a post-it note on my desk which had just been sitting there saying "a man is sitting on a bed in which the dead body of a woman lies."
>> rose: and how long had it been sitting on your bed? >> at least two months and i think it was inspired by a hopper painting of a woman sitting on a bed and somehow in... you know in dreams things get mixed up and i ended up with that image and it just sat there and i was just... just the inkling of writing about rusty salve vich again. >> rose: so final lie you said i've got it. >> that's who's sitting on the bed. rusty sabich is the guy sitting on the bed. then it was like, well, okay, but who's the woman? and intuitively i said well, that's got to be barbara the wife from "presumed innocent." but okay, what are they doing in a bed together? is this some kind of amorous reunion? >> rose: they're still married? >> could they still be married? and actually i went back and looked at the end of "presumed innocent" where rusty was already traveling to detroit where barbara had moved with
their son and the possibility of a reconciliation lingered at the end of "presumed innocent" and i said, yeah, they're still married. and at that point i was really set to do it. and, you know, "presumed innocent" was a great light in my life and for a long time i was afraid of competing with myself and i just felt that i really had something to say in "innocent" about the way lives turned out and frankly, about the way people sometimes just keep making the same mistakes. >> rose: chrez yas tease. >> ecclesiastes. you can't step in the same stream twice. that's what scared me about this. as you said? your kind introduction "presumed innocent" was in its own small way a kind of path-breaking book and you can't do... you can't do that again. you can't quote/unquote invent the legal thriller twice.
but... >> rose: but you did. (laughs) >> well, i'm proud of this book. >> rose: you didn't invent anything new here but you wrote the sequel. >> i did write the sequel. >> rose: so you stepped into the same waters. >> i did step into the same waters. as i said, the book is about facing change and fearing change and, you know, how lives can be transformed. >> rose: there's another post--it on your desk which i read about that intrigues me. it says-- (laughs) -- "you don't love me. >> that's the novel i'm thinking about writing now. and, you know, that's the common lament of all failed relationships "you don't love me." so i don't know if i'm teasing myself at this staej or if i'm really going to write this book so i'm reluctant to say anything about it. >> rose: tell me why you put that post-it up? you just thought of the thought? the expression? >> it's the pervasiveness in which humans long for love and
are so often disappointed in one another and, you know, it's a great theme. i don't know... i don't know if i'll carry it off or even decide to pursue it, but it's certainly a great theme. >> rose: did you put it up during the break up of your own marriage? >> no. it was a recent note to self. >> rose: so tell us where rusty is in his life right now. >> rusty sabich at the beginning of "innocent" is a judge of the court of appeals, the chief judge about to step up to the supreme court, a shoe-in for election. and as the novel opens, he is that man sitting on the bed, barbara is dead, he has been sitting there for 24 hours inexplicably and because of the failure to have a ready explanation for waiting to notify anybody about her death, tommy molto-- his former
antagonist from "presumed innocent" is reluctantly concluding that rusty is guilty of murdering barbara and that that's the source of her death. >> rose: edged on by tommy brand. >> edged on by tommy brand, his loyal assistant. much as tommy was niko de la guardia who egged niko on, jim brand eggs on tommy. but they are, i think, faithful creations of what prosecutors do in the face of mounting evidence. it's not like they're making anything up. the evidence slowly comes together against juf sabich. >> rose: a bit about how you construct a story here. you tell it through the eyes of tommy mow toe? through his voice? you tell it through rusty's voice and then we're on to the trial? >> right. "presumed innocent" was written solely in rusty's voice.
and first person present tense, a rather unusual thing in american writing at the time and i start in the voice of rusty's son for the prologue of the describing these two people, his mother and father in this bed. that's written in the future tense, by the way. then we go to rusty's voice for a sustained part of the book alternating with these chapters about tommy and his chief deputy brant as they're investigating this death of barbara. >> rose: when you talk about some things never change, one of those things i assume is that rusty once again has had an affair? >> rusty has... says that if anyone should be the poster boy for once burned twice wise it is he and yet knowing all of that, knowing the catastrophe that his last affair brought him he once
again plunges into an affair with his law clerk anna vos tick. >> rose: what's the hardest thing about writing the sequel? >> vostic. >> the hardest thing for me about writing "innocent" was the success of "presumed innocent." and i felt for a long time like i was tempting fate to go back over ground that i had trod with a success that was beyond my wildest dreams. but there was reason to this. i thought that the story gained a lot through the passage of time and through seeing the way this man-- not a bad man, i still think of him as very good man-- but the way he cannot resist making a mess of his life. and it seemed very powerful to me. especially as rusty-- like me-- was edging up to 60 and trying to assess things.
>> rose: he still doesn't understand himself? >> he doesn't... he does not understand himself. i don't think any of us ever fully do. but i don't think he understands the forces in himself the sort of masochistic streak that has always been there throughout the books that causes them to put himself in situations where he knows he's going to suffer. he starts this affair that you mentioned knowing that it can not work out well. he says that constantly. he knows it and yet he does it and the author might sit back and say look what this poor man is doing to himself yet again. >> rose: and he duds, too. he knows what he's doing to himself. it cannot end well. >> right. and yet he goes forward. >> rose: kindle county as a place, that's the place you know. >> it is.
certainly it is my invented mythical... it's the hometown of my imagination. >> rose: but everybody knows it's cook county. >> it certainly looks a lot like cook county. it's a little bit smaller. when i created kindle county it was smaller. i started writing about boston and it took so long writing "presumed innocent" that it started looking more and more like chicago. >> rose: because you went to harvard law school? >> and i did not want... because of my experience writing "1l" which was non-fiction and brought me into the line of fire with people who were not happen bithe way they were portrayed, i wanted to get far afield from chicago where i was practicing law. so i started setting in the boston and it began to look like chicago and "presumed innocent" and i called it cook county. >> rose: presumed innocent did not make you a writer, you were already a writer. you thought about writing before you thought about the law. >> correct. >> rose: and so you were a writer but it changed your life
because? >> because i had gone from a writer who... writer wannabe somebody who had written four novels that were unpublished to all of a sudden a worldwide success. somebody who had written a book that somehow had caught the imagination of readers around the world. and, you know, for one thing i was financially independent, something i had never imagined being. i mean, after all, i'd chosen to go to work for the government as a government lawyer. money had never driven any decision i had made my n my life so now i'm financially independent, had gone to work in a law firm because i'd exhausted things and i had to make a decision, am i going to continue to practice law? i thought well, you know, if it ain't broke, don't fix it. >> rose: up do you practice law because it feeds your creative juices to write books or because
you love the law? >> i do not practice law in order to feed the novels. the truth of the matter is, i've got enough stories, especially at this age, that i don't have to do that i do it because i like being a lawyer. now, it's easy for me to say that. i haven't worked full time since 1990. i'm not dependent on the law to make a living. i take the cases i wanted to take and more often than not they don't involve making any money. so that's a great way to practice law and very few people can do that. but on those terms it's a lot of fun. >> rose: have you missed any opportunities as a writer because you're spending part of your time practicing law? >> i think the more commercially minded writers would tell me that i should have turned it out, a book every year. >> rose: and you do one every three years, four years? >> yeah. and then there's long lapses between my books and, you know, i wouldn't mind writing faster, i just... i want the books to be
good, frankly. >> rose: one of the things you have said that interest me is that success in part is just staying at it. because if you stay at it, you'll get better. and if you get better, at some point, at some time, somebody... >> right, particularly in the arts. you know, there's a lot of ingredients, hard work is one. talent obviously is necessary. but persistence, if you persist long enough then you can... if you persist long enough you can be lucky. >> and most people don't have... if it's not finding it at some point don't have the ability to persist. >> yeah. you have to be stubborn and get up after you've been knocked down because if you're not standing up, there's no way lightning can strike you. >> rose: before "presumed innocent" you had three or four books you couldn't find a publisher and when you showed
them "presumed innocent" four out of five publishers said yes. >> yes, great memory, yes, that's true. >> rose: amazing, isn't it? >> and that, too, seemed miraculous to me. >> rose: why did you change publishers? >> well, it's a little bit of a misnomer to say i changed publishers because "what is grand central" has always been my paper back publisher and this was just a reflection of what was happening in the publishing business. both publishers made it clear for a while, fairer strauss and grand central that i really had to choose one or the other. there was not... you can't really divide hard cover and paper back writes anymore, especially the kindle era where, books were basically cannibalizing the paper back market and, you know grand central owns my entire back list. they have all these books in paper back and it seemed like a... it seemed like the right choice and i think watching the
the book is ruling out it was the right choice. i say that with no disrespect to strauss. in fact, there are a lot of people there who i truly love and they know it. >> so no hard feelings at all? >> actually there are no hard feelings. >> rose: the interesting thing about "presumed innocent" and this is a continuation, is that it really in a way establishes the legal genre. >> yes. >> rose: even though "kill "to kill a mockingbird" was a pretty good story." >> oh, i didn't invent the courtroom as a site for narrative. >> rose: what did you invent? >> i think what was unique about "presumed innocent" were a couple of things. one was the level of detail about what lawyers do. instead of treating it as a black box i said "i think people will find this interesting. "showing how a trial works in its intricacies. and the other was that for a long time in this society if you talk about "to kill a mark
mocking bird" we talked about them as paragons of virtue, all of them little abe lincolns like at atticus finch. and rusty is no pillar of virtue and that is something that's been the hallmark of all of these novels about lawyers. >> rose: and your novels always have character at issue. >> yes. >> rose: they have character at issue. >> that's the deep issue always and the way character interacts with the law and the way life is far more ambiguous thaten the law can recognize or contain. >> rose: but somehow we come out of this to respect the law. we've shown that no president is above the law after watergate. >> i think american fascination with the law really began with watergate. it began both by seeing that the president of the united states-- a lawyer,-- and his inner circle always lawyers, had broken the
law and yet senator earvin with his little copy of the constitution was capable of bringing the president to bay along with people like archibald cox and elliot richardson, men of extraordinary prince principle. and that episode really embraced the long-standing american ambivalence about lawyers. they can do ill, they have enormous knowledge and power to do ill and they can do good. >> rose: so if we're saying to all would be writers what can we learn from you? one thing is pay attention to detail because somehow americans in the end-- international readers-- like understanding process. they like detail. they like. >> rose:... they do, you're right. >> rose: take me inside, pierce the veil of the way it really is. >> you know, the novel when it arose in the 18th century arose fundamentally for educational
purposes. that was to teach women who were newly liberated from the need to work outside the home the manners of the genteel class. and story telling, as every trial lawyer knows, you want to teach somebody something, tell name story. so popular fiction has always been... james michener for example as is a great example of somebody who told a great story but taught about lots of subjects. the success of my novels and the many other lawyer writers who've come along with me do depend on teaching about the law. if you find a subject that americans want to know about, you know, you can about the ate in the great detail. >> rose: what was the hardest thing for you to get right as a writer. was there a difference between the earlier novels that people turned down and "presumed innocent"? did you get character right? did you great story telling right? did you get ambivalence right? did you get dilemma right?
>> well, you know, first of all you learn by practice and you really do. people like to think you can just be a novelist by snapping your fingers, you can't. what i learned was to accept the things that had brought know the law, especially min my own fascination with crime and to embrace it. plot was kind of a dirty word before the late 1980s. it was not... serious literature and plot stood at... were poles apart. and, you know, "presumed innocent" and "bonfire of the vanities" were both published in 1987 and they brought plot back into american literature and that was the other thing i had to learn which is don't be afraid of my own propensity to plot and to plot intricately. >> do you make any sacrifices in terms of what you would consider
quality? literary fiction? >> yeah. >> rose: in the interest of commerce, a book that will sell. >> you know, i am lucky to be able to do what i want as a writer. now, you can say i have a middle brow imagination and i like the chapters that come to dramatic conclusions and i know that there's an argument that that's too obvious and... but that's who i am as a writer. and i don't think i make sacrifices for sake of commerce. i'm proud of "innocent" but every reader is going to stand up and cheer when they see rusty sabich making some of the same mistakes again. >> rose: but let me say it another way. if your publisher said "listen, you've earned this." some filmmakers will go write an art film knowing it's not going
to reach a big audience. >> rose: some if i can makers will have novels in their desk drawer. >> exactly right. you basically said if i said go make whatever book you want to make, write whatever book you want to write,... >> at this point in my life i would have written that book. >> rose: this is the book you'd write. this is as good as you can get. you. >> i think it's a good book. >> rose: no, this is as good as you can do. >> it was as good as i could do then and and there's the saying that every writer think it is book he's working on now is his best so i will soon be drink mig own cool laid. >> rose: but do you think the things that came between this and presumed innocent were as good or better than "presumed innocent"? >> in many ways, yeah. >> rose: just where they came? >> it was where they came, it was what they were. i mean, i think, you know, for example, the book... my book "the laws of our fathers" you know, i'm very proud of that book. it's one of the few american
novels i know of that actually takes on the 1960s. so i'm... i look at president shelf of books, i'm proud of what i've done. i haven't wasted my time as a writer but if you told me "go ahead and write whatever you want" i would still have written that book. >> if you... do you do character better or plot? : i see character and plot as inextricably related. and, again, one of the things that has happened in the course of the novels i've written is that whatever happens in the plot is revelatory of the characters. and they're not just fancy turns. i love the surprises. you know, i love pulling the rug out from under readers and there's some surprises at the end of "innocent" that i like.
but it's... i believe that what happens, happens in the book in order to show who these people are at core. >> rose: i also dialogue... sometimes people say do you do dialogue better than you do plot? but dialogue seems to me to come out of character. >> dialogue frankly just comes out of something in my head. i just hear these people talking. >> rose: because it's who they are, though. >> it is who they are. but, you know, different writers write in different ways. i do a lot of dialogue and some people prefer to be expoztory and write scenes that way. and just talk about things from the inside of a character. i like people talking to each other. >> rose: are you tempted to write plays? >> i am tempted to write plays. as a matter of fact, that's one of the things that i'm working on. and lord knows if i veal any success... >> rose: but will it be a courtroom drama? >> no, it's not. i started a play, it's an idea i had for a while and it's a
little bit of post-9/11 drama. >> rose: start with a character or start with an idea or start with a place. >> this one started with an idea. what if a guy was missing in a disaster. >> rose: people they thought were dead from war or from some other... >> right. but i've got to write it but i do like dialogue. you're right. >> rose: why did you choose a play rather than a novel rather than the story? >> it just seemed to be a play. principally about two characters engaged with each other in conversation. >> rose: you still write the same way? get up in the morning? >> finish how much a day? >> i have no set goal besides keeping my behind in the chair.
some days it's only a paragraph and some days it's six pages. >> so when you sit there with a computer in front of you... >> i sit with the computer in front of me, the early stages of a book as my friend richard russo has commented. very often you find yourself with your head in the refrigerator instead because most often it's the furtherest point in the house from the computer screen. >> rose: do you save everything thinking maybe i'll congress back. somewhere on some document there's everything every written? >> yes. it's easy in the computer age then i go through it and weed it out. i never reread it so i don't know why i'm saving it. but it's there. >> rose: you used to write in long hand or not? >> i started out writing in long hand before the invention of the personal computer but because i was a high school journalist i was a good typist and made the... >> rose: interesting about this. you now write on a computer. what you have brought into this
story and what rusty faces is e-mails and d.n.a.. >> yes. a lot of computer forensics. the d.n.a. is a little bit of a nod at the readers of "presumed innocent" because if poor rusty had been unfortunate enough to be tried four years later he would not have walked out of that courtroom because, after all, it was his d.n.a. that was found in the victim in "presumed innocent" so that fact comes back and is actually one of the compelling factors for tommy molto to indict rusty now. that even though he walked away, it appears he was guilty of the first murder. >> rose: let me talk about some things about you personally. we've all seen the movie "up in the air" with george clooney. >> yeah. >> rose: this is a guy who takes nothing as serious as having an executive platinum something. now, there's a story about you... >> a spoof on myself. >> rose: indeed, that you flew around the country in order to get enough miles to qualify you
or continue your qualification for... >> right, right. >> rose: what is it that a so's precious about executive platinum? >> it makes flying a lot easier. my friend dave berry admitted the other day in the "new york times" that his one luxury is flying first class and dave's a very humble guy but, you know, i like the same thing. there's a lot more room to... >> rose: that's fair enough. but you can pay for first class so what it is about executive platinum that you depth to get that you don't get by paying for first class. >> it makes flying easier. there's no lines. you want to check your luggage, there's no line. they upgrade you to first class automatically. there's... if there's space available you go through a separate line in security. >> rose: it's pampering, isn't it? >> pampering and also the competitive nature of me in the same things that made me a trial lawyer, you know? it's out there, it's only 9,000 miles away, can you get it? >> rose: so you didn't have it so you had to fly around.
>> i flew around the country for a day. i spent 125 day but i wrote an article about it for the "new york times" as i was doing it. very post-modern. >> rose: so you must have loved the movie with clooney. >> i thought the movie was really good. especially its examination of the flying class, which is an important segment of america. >> suppose this is made into a movie. do you see harrison coming back to be rusty? >> if you ask me for my preference, yes. that would be my preference. >>. >> rose: that would be perfect. >> i know harrison has read the book and likes the book. but that is way, way above my pay grade. >> rose: have you sold the movie rights? >> the movie rights have not yet been sold. there have been many conversations. there's a lot of interest but nobody signed on the dotted line. no deal yet. >> rose: barack obama. >> the president. >> rose: you knew him since he was a state senator. >> i knew him before he was a state senator. >> rose: he was a lawyer doing community work in chicago. >> when i met the president he
had just made the decision to the run for the state senate. >> rose: having already failed to... as a congressional candidate? >> no, that came later. but he... i think and i'm not talking out of school because it's nothing that he ever said to me, but i thought at that point in his life he was somewhat ambivalentment the opportunity had come up that he hadn't expected to run for this state senate seat and so he grasped it. but he had just published the year before "dreams from my father" which is really a wonderful book and he's quite interested in writers and writing. and that really was the nature of our friendship to start. >> rose: you mean he was curious with you about your writing? >> he certainly had read "1l" he had read my novels and he was interested in talking to me
about writing. and that remained the case for years. i remember i published an gnarl t atlantic while he was in the senate and got my voice mail on monday in the office and there was the man who was now president me telling me... >> rose: how much he liked the piece. >> how much he liked the piece. he's a highly literate guy, he's a wonderful reader. >> rose: what else recommends him to you as a friend? >> well, i... you know, i am certainly not barack obama's best friend, i often refer to the president as a guy i used to know. but i... our relationship was frequently contentious. in a very good natured way. and i remember when he decided to run for the u.s. senate he called me up and thinkinging i would automatically say i was going to support him and i didn't. and by the third time he called me he was like "what the heck is
wrong with you? we have the same values, we have the same friends, why won't you support me?" i said "because you told me two years ago you were going to beat bobby rush and you got 27% of the vote. so now you tell me you're going to be the u.s. senator? and he was like, "oh, so that's what this is about." >> rose: so it was about whether you thought he would win? you weren't sure he could win rather than you believed he would be a great senator? >> and that was what he turned back to me in that conversation and he said "okay, you tell me who's running that you would rather see in the u.s. senate." and i said "there's nobody." he said "so what are you doing?" i said "okay." and i threw the first political fund raiser in my house that i had ever thrown for the president as then senator obama. >> rose: state senator running for the u.s. senate. >> running for the u.s. senate. >> rose: so how do you measure his intelligence. >> greater than mine.
and i don't say that all that often, but he is a really brilliant man and i'll tell you why i say it. i served on the death penalty commission in illinois and ultimately george ryan cleared death row the people of illinois were far more supportive than the members of the general assembly anticipated and it became obvious there was political momentum in favor of reform of the death penalty laws in illinois and the state senator who led that effort was barack obama. when people ask about his political courage, by the way, i can point to a number of things, that's certainly one of them. that was not the kind of issue that an ambitious politician thinking only about higher office would ever have taken on. so we would sit together and talk about the structure of the very complicated death penalty statute?
illinois. now, i'm a criminal defense lawyer, i had worked on death penalty cases for a number of years and despite that, the president remembered the structure of that statute better than i did, was more physician-assisted suicide site in making the proposed changes in his head. it was a really impressive demonstration of intellectual power. >> george ryan went to jail, didn't he? >> he did. george ryan yan is still in the federal penitentiary and i say the same thing about him and he was apparently a lousy secretary of state and committed many sins but he was a really good governor and there are plenty of people who will tell you that. >> rose: speaking of america and big issues and politicians and the like, did i read someone somewhere you said something to the effect that we may be undergoing right now fundamental assumptions about our economy. >> well, i thought that the
financial meltdown would spur people to look far more carefully at this sort of religious faith in the free market that americans have had since the reagan years. i was in china for the first time in march that's the fastest-growing economy in the world and somehow we ignore the fact that that's not a free market. there's plenty of entrepreneurial spirit but at the end of the day it's a planned economy and the idea that ang unregulated free market is going to produce the best results is frankly a bunch of hokum. and what seems to produce the best results is a government that inspires and tolerates trepsship but which also provides a measure of guidance over business activities and especially business activities that are threatened.
entrepreneurship. >> it's a very interesting question. there are lots of aspects including government ownership. when you say "planned economy"? some planned economies you don't have government ownership. in other planned economies you're talking about simply the government plays a role in creating regulatory structure and an architecture in which people have to exist within. >> and that's what i'm talking about. i'm not favoring government ownership of capital as exists in china. i mean, the china knees economy is financed by the chinese savings rate which is 52% and basically the government's borrowing money from its own citizens. >> rose: well, they wish they had... they would like for it to have a lot higher consumption rate in order to create a demand that would in a sense fuel the economy. so they don't have to go overseas for for demand. >> right. right. china is a pretty impressive place. >> rose: why don't we write a legal novel about china? >> well, i'm not sure the
chinese legal system is the shining star of chinese society >>. >> rose: but i'm trying to get you out of kindle county. why don't you go to beijing or shanghai. spend five years in shanghai and write a great book and have a good time. you're recently divorced. why not? >> because if it ain't broke, why fix it? >> rose: because you don't need it! do this... you don't need to write a book. your ego may need to but you don't need to write a book for money. >> no, i write books for the same reason most writers write books because it's basically my method of surviving. of making peace with myself. >> and it is what you do? >> and it's what i do. >> rose: that's what people... you people want to do what they do. >> right. we're all... we all, all human beings have talents. one of the blessings in my life has been able to identify mine. >> rose: i once asked ted williams why baseball and he
said because i played it well." >> rose: he surely did. >> rose: the more he played, the more people applauded. the better he became, the more they applauded. and all of a sudden he was in an exalted space. >> rose: and deservedly so in this case. >> rose: are you a white sox fan or a cubs fan? >> i'm a cubs fan. i'm one of the long-suffering legions. >> rose: your president is a white sox fan? >> well, he's not perfect. >> rose: scott turow, the book is called "innocent." thank you. >> rose: >> thank you, charlie, appreciate being here. >> rose: jules feiffer is here, he's a pulitzer prize winning cartoonist, a playwright, an author, his self-titled comic strip ran in the village voice for 21 years. now he's written a memoir about his life and his art, it's called "backing into forward." i'm pleased to have jules
feiffer at this table. welcome. i'm pleased to have you here. >> i'm delighted to be here. >> rose: why did you decide to do this memoir. >> i didn't decide. i backed into it. i was nagged by friends. >> rose: right. >> i would tell these stories over the years, usually a drink or two and my tongue would unroll and some would say "you've got to write that down." and i would say i don't want to write down anything i already know. what i loved in my bourque in doing it was that i could start out not knowing what i was going to do and tell the story. i wouldn't know how it would come out anywhere more than the reader or the audience would know. and if i wrote a memoir i figured i knew what the story was. but it turns out i didn't because there was so much i had forgotten. that once i started making notes on it, stuff started popping up and this started popping up and stuff i hadn't thought of in 30, 40, 50 years longer. and what i thought would probably be a 50-page book just wouldn't quit until i forced
it... i wrestled it to the ground. >> rose: so you define yourself as a cartoonist who also writes or do you find yourself as a write ore who also draws? >> you know, the labels i think of is when i'm doing cartoons i'm a cartoonist. when i'm writing a kids book, i'm a writer of children's books and when i'm illustrating it i'm an illustrator. i'm very comfortable moving back and forth. i don't find any of those in conflict. i don't find any stress or any strain or i wouldn't be able to do them. the one segways into the other. >> rose: you finally ended the cartoon because? >> oh, because it was time. because i had been doing it for 42 years. because despite the fact that people had described me early on as cynical i never thought i was cynical. i thought i was working out of innocence and then i discovered that i had become cynical because i no longer believed that i was doing the lord's work
in order to change things. i was just... i felt that we were stuck in a downward spiral, that my children were not going to do better than i, that the american dream was your kids would always do better and that things would progress, things would improve. we would always... there would be racial harmony, there would be equality and all... i stopped believing that and having stopped believing that, i thought i... it's time to quit. i must sway the election of obama i did a... >> rose: a bit more optimism? >> well, yes. he's the first president i've approved of since the one who got elected in 192 when i was three years old. >> rose: not even john kennedy. >> no, i liked kennedy's style and his charm and i liked... and i describe anymore the book as carey grant in the white house. nothing wrong with that. and i like that fact that he ended the atmosphere of suppression that existed underize how post-mccarthy. but i thought kennedy was much
too cautious and conservative. latter day i admire him more for all sorts of things. his america university speech which threatened to make a serious critique of the cold war and move onward but a few months later he was shot. >> rose: how about his brother? >> i was never a bobby fan. >> rose: even in tend. >> not even in the end. i would have voted for him. >> rose: the anti-war... >> well, it's... >> rose: the poverty, commitment to poverty. >> i campaigned for gene mccarthy who was a total disaster. (laughs) >> rose: as a candidate. >> if you give me a choice of candidates i would very often pick the one that when i look back upon i'd say how the hell could i have done that. >> rose: you just like the fact that he ha a poet in his entourage. >> (laughs) well, i read about that that in the book that during the oregon primary or wisconsin i can't remember exactly. mccarthy brought robert lowell to his room and they did a poetry... >> rose: i thought it even started in new hampshire. i thought it was lowell was with
him in new hampshire. >> lowell was with him all along. and lowell was far more charismatic than mccarthy. >> rose: you wrote in the dedication "for my children, success is nothing to sneeze at, but failure, too, offers great possibilities. always remember, do not let your judges define you." >> yes. and that's what the book is about. what we have out there and have always had is all of these grown-ups, many of them very well meaning, who tell you who and what you are and when kids are vulnerable, when they're not quite sure they begin to think well, maybe he's right, maybe she's right. so would be poets stops writing poetry because the teacher was a little bit harsh. i have a painter friend who wanted to be a poet and after she got slammed in class she never wrote another poem. >> rose: how good a painter was he? >> she was a good painter. (laughs) who knows? >> rose: who knows, yes. so did you decide to be a cartoonist when in your opinion the military?
>> no, i decided to be a cartoonist when i was five years old before i had any judges. >> rose: did the military have anything to do with it? >> the military had to do with me becoming a satirist. the army made a subversive out of me, something i was not planning. i didn't start out doing this to overthrow the government. but it seemed like a good idea. >> rose: but you were an anti-authoritarian from a long, long time ago. >> yes, now the extent i wanted to do satire, satiric comedy which i didn't want to do, i thought of myself in a tradition of al kapp's "li'l abner" which was a liberal strip earlier on. not savage and not cutting as deep as i did. the army did that to me. the army made me dissatisfied with the traditional forms of satire... mild satire in newspaper strips. also it was the residue of a peculiar time we were living in. the culture i grew up in and
came to maturity in was that mystery of the cold war, mccarthy and post-mccarthy where surrounded by liberals, young, urban, educated liberals, i found that my friends and myself were afraid to voice in public or on the job what we really thought. we didn't know and we didn't think we had first amendment rights. everybody else did. if you were critical of the cold war and how it was being prosecuted, you shut up on the job because you could get into trouble. and everybody thought that was normal. so i really started this work... needed to start the work as an outlet because i felt set upon. and after those two years in the army where i was set upon everyday, i was not going to put up with it as a civilian. nobody was going to do that to me again. i remember when i got out of the army i said, you know, i don't have to take... there's an obscenity i won't use here but i don't have to take that from
anybody anymore. >> rose: (laughs) >> that was a new attitude on my part. >> rose: how did you come to be at the "voice"? >> because there was nobody left. i had run out of rejections. i had taken my work, these little books of satire, 40, 50 pages of cartoon... narrative cartoon, now they would be called graphic novels but that term wasn't used then. beginning with monroe about a four-year-old boy drafted by mistake, everybody... every editor in town loved it and passed on it. then passionella about an enormously boobed movie star. everybody loved it and passed on it. so there was one about he's the bomb called boom. and none of these editors said >> this is promising and i know you're going to do it. they said this is great stuff but we can't publish it because we don't know who you are. so i had to get famous in order to get published and on all of
these editors desks i saw in 1957 this newspaper called the village voice. so i had this inspiration which is if i go down to that paper and get myself in it, those editors will sigh see me in it and say he's marketingable. >> the first one is from the village voice, july 16, 1958. >> sometimes i feel small, sometimes i feel larger than life, sometimes i feel crushed and sometimes i feel like a king. sometimes i feel slow and sometimes i feel like a wit. but most of the time i feel just like me so i drink. >> rose: where does style comele from in cartoons. >> i think in the end style comes out of your own sensibility but before you have that sensibility it comes from myriad sources.
so so that style i can go back to the french cartoonists, even oddly enough to george gross. go into that work in the fifth drawing of the "sometimes i feel slow." the line there remind me of my version of george gross. in the third drawing "sometimes i feel crushed" i'm probably steeling stooig there. it's all... if i had these mentors, they didn't know they were my mentors but i can have been going to their academy and they could have been teaching me and they didn't know that. >> rose: finally there's this from the village voice, october 10, 1963. >> this is a particular favorite of mine. it's a business like man, he says "how do you do mr. mercantile?" this is my character bernard. "how do you do? i'm your grown-up? you're my what? surely you've always wanted a grown-up, somebody who takes over those petty day to day
affairs which so complicate one's life and who handles them cleanly and efficiently, knob southbound who will not allow your insurance to lapse, your rent to fall overdo, your car to break down, sbhob will not be nervous in regard to calling the landlord about repairs, worried about breaking a date, the boss about a needed raise. in other words, somebody who is trained to do all those adult things too many of us have been asked to do since childhood and still can't quite manage. somebody who who is willing and happy to stand on your own two feet for your to fight all your battles, to make all your difficult decisions, i.e., your grown-up. you mean i won't have to make a decision again once your grown-up will make them all. it's unbelievable, what i've dreamed of all my life. what do you want me to pay you? gee, i don't know, what do you think i'm worth? >> great. cartoons today, how are they? >> you're talking to an 1-year-old man: how do i know?
>> rose: (laughs) >> you read. you see. you're a connoisseur of things. >> it's fakery. it's a lie. i'm aware of... i mean, the newspaper strip because it's been so reduced in size is basically invisible not just to the... >> rose: but have they found another place? >> there's still some that are good like "doonesbury" and mutts by patrick mcdonald and a few others. but most of the territory has moved on to alternative forms. graphic novels and alternative cartoons and there are some extraordinary men out there and women who are doing remarkable work. chris ware, ox spiegel man we all know and dan close and there's an illustrator named david small who did a book called "stitches" which was a memoir. a graphic mepl were that came out that was simply amazing.
and there are young man named craig thompson came out a few years ago with a 500 page graphic novel called blanket. an amazing boochlt. so one might think they we're in the middle of a golden age blue i'm not of the right generation to decide those things. >> rose: you're 81. >> i seem to be in great health. i'm working. >> rose: you seem remark to believe me. maybe 80 is the new 60 or something. or the new 50. >> (laughs) >> 81 is the new 92. it's... fortunately for me i lived the life as a young man never in shape. >> rose: fortunately? >> i never played ball, had no athletic ability. so i can't do what i used to be able to do. i never used to be able to do it
>> rose: (laughs) so you're not depressed over not being able to play golf anymore. >> i never could play baseball so it's... but what i can do and i can do it better than i could 10 years ago 20, years ago, my drawing gets better all the time. i just did a new children's book by my daughter kate which is called "my side of the car" and it comes out next fall which is some of the best work i've ever done. i've got another book with norton juster who did "the phantom toll booth." this is our first book in 50 years and it's... i didn't know i could drama well. ". >> rose: here's the last paragraph. "stop the presses, since i wrote to above i don't enjoy our politics which are an embarrass or what i see as becoming, whatever i see and can't stand i slope a sign of age, not acuity.
stop the presses, since i wrote to above in the winter of 2008 we've had an impossible election and barack obama's president. the first president i've been smitten with since 1932. i've renewed my citizenship, spiritually revoked four years earlier. now i'm an american again, i am proud, i am riding a pony. i think of my children and grandchildren to come and my heart swells: i drink from the half empty glass of water but with growing optimism. never has water taste sod good. never has the day loomed so bright. yes, i know everything can go wrong, i know my hopes can crash and burn as they often have in the past but i have rediscovered illusion. once i have illusion back it can carry me far. my pony breaks into a gallop, i stare at the glass and wonder no matter how much i drink it doesn't lose any water. my glass is half full. >> is half full. you read that with such dramatic
urgency that i'm afraid all i could hear was hyperbole. >> rose: (laughs) >> >> i didn't mean it that way. >>. >> rose: i thought you meant it with enthusiasm. >> i did. one of the things i felt through years going through terrible times publicly and privately, going through the vietnam years where i despaired that the country was going down the tubes forever in terms of the protests and repression of the protests and i was in chicago during the convention and saw all of that. and i was truly in despair and i realized somewhere along the line that even if you have to invent it you have to have illusion. only with illusion is there the chance of hope and the chance of improving anything and what obama has given us despite how much he disappoints and everyone disappoints is a chance to start believing in a future again which for eight years during the bush years there was no reason
to. and i think that's remarkable. it's not like i don't have much to criticize. i do. but i have much to believe in which i didn't have for a long period of time. >> rose: thank you for coming. >> thank you. thank you for having me. >> rose: jules feiffer "backing into forward." a memoir. captioning sponsored by rose communications captioned by media access group at wgbh access.wgbh.org